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Pennsylvania Special-Education Rules Dealt Setback

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A Pennsylvania regulatory-review commission has rejected for the second time a controversial new set of rules governing the state's financially troubled special-education system.

The 4-to-1 vote last month by the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission was the latest in a series of setbacks for the proposed regulations. Since their unanimous approval in January by the state board of education, the rules have also been rejected by both education committees of the legislature.

As a result of the latest vote, the regulations have been returned to the House and Senate education committees. Those panels have until this week to approve a resolution barring the rules from taking effect. If, within another 30 days, the full legislature votes to go along with such a recommendation, only a veto of the bill by Gov. Robert P. Casey would keep the rules alive.

The most controversial aspect of the new rules would require school officials to provide some help to all students with learning problems, even if they are not legally classified as handicapped. (See Education Week, Jan. 31, 1990.)

The procedures would require school districts to provide special "instructional-support teams" for each elementary-school student who has trouble learning. Composed of the student's classroom teacher, the school principal, and a "support teacher" trained and paid for by the state, the team would meet to discuss the student's learning problems and develop strategies to help him or her succeed in the regular classroom.

In addition, the rules would establish procedures for serving handicapped infants and toddlers.

Board's Role Questioned

School administrators and law8makers have criticized the instructional-support-team proposal for failing to cover what they say will be its substantial costs.

The review commission and other critics of the rules have also contended the state school board does not have statutory authority to legislate such major initiatives as the instructional-support-team plan and the program for preschoolers with handicaps.

Critics say that job belongs to the legislature, which is already working on rules governing special-education services for infants and toddlers.

Despite such criticism, Robert Feir, executive director of the state board, said he was "optimistic" the rules would go into effect as planned on July 1.

"It is our view," he said, "that the existing special-education system will cost a great deal more in the long run unless we make these kinds of changes."--dv

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